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Kitsilano javelin thrower featured in Team Canada commercial

Megan Stewart / Vancouver Courier 

May 5, 2016 04:02 PM

Liz Gleadle is one of a dozen athletes featured in the Canadian Olympic Committee marketing campaign for the 2016 Rio Summer Games. 

 Canadians are forged from ice and snow, hard-edged and cool even in sweaty, tropical or desert climes like Qatar and Brazil.

“Ice in Our Veins” is the message of the latest marketing campaign by the Canadian Olympic Committee, and Kitsilano’s Liz Gleadle — who is featured in the commercials throwing a javelin on a massive ice floe — says the country’s climate undoubtedly tested and shaped her.

“I stand outside in Vancouver in next-to-freezing-cold rain to the point I can’t feel my hands or feet or face. I’ve had my hair frozen to my head,” said Gleadle, 27, the Canadian record holder in the javelin throw and Toronto Pan Am gold medallist.

Featuring 12 summer-sport athletes, the campaign builds on the “We Are Winter” slogan used for the 2012 Sochi Winter Games.

Without irony and using real flames in the foreground, the COC promotes, “how Canada’s icy landscape helps create fierce athletes with iron will and determination.”

Gleadle took issue with a Toronto Star article that featured her photo though she wasn’t contacted for comment. The article begins by labelling the advertisement “ridiculous” as long as the ice-in-their-veins mantra is literally applied to summer athletes, some who train in warm climates not beside caribou, but then adds the voices of several marketing experts who unpack the power of the message. A University of Ottawa professor called it “highly figurative.”

Michael Mulvey told the Star, “It’s a very elusive (and) very metaphoric. It’s really symbolically infused, and if you allow yourself to kind of play in that world it’s a really fun campaign.”

Gleadle, a Kitsilano secondary graduate and former UBC Thunderbird, has trained in miserable, wet and cold conditions, gripping and throwing the steel javelin despite frosty fingers in sub-zero temperatures.

Her clips in the campaign were filmed in January, in Northern Ontario on Georgian Bay. The commercial features icebergs, a landscape of snowy tundra, and glacial waters. She is standing on a massive piece of ice, wearing her typical competition clothing and track spikes for leverage and safety as she launches her javelin for the camera.

She called the steely look of her shots “cold, blue cold,” which is what the wind-chill felt like. Being one of the public faces used to promote the Canadian team at the Summer Olympic Games is an honour that will motivate her to perform, she said.

“It’s amazing. It was pretty epic just being at the shooting scene, and I can see why they chose it. It was really cold and windy, and I felt very Canadian striding out through the ice-cold water to stand on a floating piece of ice to throw a javelin.”

She said she didn’t need to take any risks and that the shoot was safe but she still put a strong effort into her throw.

“I threw with clean technique, so I wasn’t worried about hurting myself that way. I thought it was an amazing opportunity, and I gave it my best shot,” said the fifth-ranked female javelin thrower in the world, according to a head-to-head performance ranking.

Many Canadian summer sport athletes are still exposed to frosty winters and many endure harsh outdoor conditions, though perhaps they don't walk barefoot on snow and dive into frigid water off 15-metre icebergs as portrayed in the COC commercial. 

The message of ingrained resilence, a grit forged through sleet and wind and freezing temperatures rings true for Gleadle. “I train in Lethbridge, with 60-kilometre winds. I don’t care if it’s freezing cold, if it’s snowing of if I’m in Doha — we still have that same kind of toughness,” she said.

In fact, Gleadle was on the phone from Doha, Qatar where she was preparing for her season debut at the first Diamond League meet of the international track and field series.  

She is one of the few javelin throwers who takes nine training throws each week. Many coaches and athletes have long held the belief that fewer throws per week is better since the explosive act risks minor and catastrophic injury. Javelin has a high rate of injury because of the twisting and torque placed on the body, including the feet and knees, through the hips and back, and up to the shoulders and neck. Like major league pitchers, these hurlers can require Tommy John surgery.

Gleadle said she and her coach Larry Steinke take laborious, meticulous caution to perfect her mechanics in order to avoid injury. “Knock on wood,” she added.

“We are militant about being precise about those movements that could be disastrous. If you look at my stats, you’ll see I’m really consistent in the throws I produce. I’m always between 61 and 64 metres,” she said. “I’ve opted for consistent throws but haven’t had that big one throw. That is hopefully this year where I will make that big jump. Now I can handle more power and more speed to my runway.”

A throw longer than her national women’s record of 64.83 metres could come this summer. A finalist at the London Summer Games in 2012, Gleadle is an outside contender for an Olympic medal in Rio.

After a prolonged recovery from hip alignment issues, Gleadle said she is injury free and in her best shape ever.

The COC commercial also features are tennis player Milos Raonic, boxer Mandy Bujold, cyclist Catherine Pendrel, canoer Mark de Jong, and wearing nothing more than their swimsuits, swimmer Ryan Cochrane and diver Jennifer Abel.

Gleadle will travel directly from Doha to Tokyo for her next meet and will compete at Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium for the Harry Jerome Classic on June 19.

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